Agile Management and the Sprint Retrospective

Part of any agile-managed project, the sprint retrospective is a meeting in which the scrum master, the product owner, and the development team discuss how the sprint went and how to improve the next sprint. If the scrum team regularly interacts with outside stakeholders, those stakeholders’ insights can be quite valuable and they may merit an invitation to the retrospective.

The goal of the sprint retrospective is to continuously improve your processes. Improving and customizing processes according to the needs of each individual scrum team increases scrum team morale, improves efficiency, and increases velocity — work output.

Your sprint retrospective results may be unique for your scrum team. For example, a team may decide to come into work early and leave early in the day — or do the opposite. The flexibility to work when the team feels most productive can increase morale and increase velocity.

Agile approaches quickly reveal problems within projects. Data from the sprint backlog shows exactly where the development team was slowed down.

Participating in an agile sprint retrospective

The retrospective meeting is action oriented and should cover three primary questions:

  • What went well during the sprint?

  • What would we like to change?

  • How can we implement that change?

For the first sprint retrospective, everyone on the scrum team needs to consider the three questions ahead of time. Everyone on the scrum team may want to make a few notes beforehand, or even take notes throughout the sprint. The scrum team could keep the roadblocks from the sprint's daily scrum meetings in mind. For the second sprint retrospective forward, you can also start to compare the current sprint with prior sprints.

Additional topics can be open for discussion:

  • Results: Compare the amount of work planned with what the development team actually completed. Review the sprint burndown chart and what it tells the development team about how they’re working.

  • People: Discuss team composition and alignment.

  • Relationships: Talk about communication, collaboration, and working in pairs.

  • Processes: Go over getting support, development, and code review processes.

  • Tools: How are the different tools working for the scrum team? Think about the artifacts, electronic tools, communication tools, and technical tools.

  • Productivity: How can the team improve productivity and get the most work done within the next sprint?

One of the rules of scrum is to spend no more than 45 minutes in a sprint retrospective meeting for every week of the sprint.

For some scrum teams, it may be difficult to open up at first. The scrum master may need to ask specific questions to start discussions. Participating in retrospectives takes practice. What matters is to encourage the scrum team to take responsibility for the sprint — to truly embrace being self-managing.

The sprint retrospective meeting is an action-oriented meeting, not a justification meeting. If you’re hearing words like “because . . . ,” the conversation is moving away from action and toward rationale.

Inspecting and adapting as a result of an agile sprint retrospective

The agile sprint retrospective is one of the best opportunities you have to put the ideas of inspect and adapt into action. You come up with challenges and solutions during the retrospective. Don't leave those solutions behind after the meeting; make the improvements part of your work every day.

You can record your recommendations for improvement informally. Some scrum teams post the actions identified during the retrospective meeting in the team area to ensure visibility and action on the items listed.

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